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Source of Stanton opponent’s campaign loan unclear

Republican Kelly Cooper amended a disclosure form to show more assets and income, but not enough to show source of $1.3 million

Kelly Cooper, left, The challenger to Arizona Rep. Greg Stanton, right, disclosed loaning his campaign $1.3 million, but his personal financial disclosure did not show accounts from which that large a sum could have come.
Kelly Cooper, left, The challenger to Arizona Rep. Greg Stanton, right, disclosed loaning his campaign $1.3 million, but his personal financial disclosure did not show accounts from which that large a sum could have come. (Cooper photo courtesy Kelly Cooper for Congress. Stanton photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Kelly Cooper, the Republican challenging Democratic Rep. Greg Stanton in Arizona’s 4th District, amended his personal financial disclosure this month after an inquiry from CQ Roll Call, disclosing more assets and recent salary. 

Cooper has reported loaning his congressional campaign more than $1.3 million from July of last year through June 27, but his assets and salary on required disclosure forms did not appear to identify where he got that much money, even after he amended the report. He initially disclosed assets of up to $100,000 and income in the current year of about $220,000. 

In Cooper’s updated filing, the candidate disclosed more in assets, up to $350,000, and income in the current year up to nearly $500,000, according to an amended report dated Sept. 9.   

In both reports, he disclosed a mortgage of up to $500,000 and an additional debt of up to $50,000 for a home “solar panel installation loan.” 

A consultant for Cooper’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment. His campaign did not respond to requests to a general email account either. 

Cooper, a veteran of the Marine Corps, is a restaurateur whose holdings include Melting Pot franchises in Arizona as well as BKD’s Backyard Joint in Chandler, Ariz. He has made economic issues a signature part of his campaign, along with border security. 

“Successfully operating businesses through the pandemic allowed Cooper to understand the struggles felt by American citizens and the opportunities for improvement in the government,” his campaign said in a statement to a local news outlet, the Queen Creek Sun Times, in January. “He has hired and managed thousands of employees since his first restaurant opened in 1999, has written 100 paychecks every two weeks for more than a decade, managed $5 million operational budgets, served as the chairman of Melting Pot national brands, and true to his values donates to local charities every month from each restaurant and was committed to passing out toilet paper during COVID lockdowns.”

Cooper’s restaurants received some $500,000 combined from Paycheck Protection Program loans and government rescue money to help businesses survive when they were mandated to close because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Craig Holman, a lobbyist who focuses on ethics and campaign finance for the liberal group Public Citizen, said partnerships can be problematic in that the disclosure forms don’t give accurate percentages of ownerships in such ventures. But, he added, if there is any ownership, that must be disclosed.

“It is difficult to discern what is going on with Kelly Cooper’s finances from the personal financial disclosure report,” Holman said. “Judging from what he is reporting, there is no $1.3 million available to loan his campaign.”

Holman said Cooper is either omitting assets or accounts from his disclosure, or he could “bankroll his campaign on ghost money and default on his vendors.”

The Ethics in Government Act authorizes the attorney general to seek a civil penalty up to $50,000 against someone who “knowingly and willfully falsifies or fails to file or to report any required information,” according to the House Ethics Committee. Under federal criminal law, anyone who knowingly and willfully falsifies or conceals any material fact in a statement to the government can be fined up to $50,000 and/or imprisoned up to five years.

House Republicans’ campaign arm recently added Cooper, along with a dozen other candidates in competitive races, to its Young Guns program, which provides fundraising and campaign help. 

Cooper’s campaign reported that it had brought in $1.5 million by July 13 in total receipts, including the $1.3 million in candidate loans, which he made to his campaign ahead of the Aug. 2 primary. He had almost $1 million cash on hand as of that date and had repaid himself $30,000 in May, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Stanton, the Democratic incumbent in the race, reported total receipts of almost $3 million with $3.2 million cash on hand on July 13. 

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race as Likely Democratic.  

Niels Lesniewski and Chris Marquette contributed to this report.

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